Thursday, October 17, 2013

A shining influence...

I first published this on January 28, 2012, but thought it would be appropriate to publish it again, in the spirit of the visit back to some of the local haunts.

This was written as a tribute to my grandfather. He was a huge influence on my life, and it took until I was older, and he was already long gone, for me to fully realize just how much. there was much to admire about him. and although I had already known that, there were things that remained hidden to me until adulthood.

So, in honor of him now, here is a piece that I wrote about just shy of two years ago now, but which is as relevant now as it was then, and which the trip to several places in New York State made me remember all the more:

I have been thinking a bit lately about my late grandfather, who died in June of 1989. Not entirely sure why, but every so often, he comes to mind. There were four or five things that he really got me interested in, and which have retained my interest, albeit to varying degrees, ever since.
One of these would be American football, which I started watching with him, the first few games or so that I can recall. He was a Jets fan, and while I am a Giants fan first and foremost, I always maintained a healthy like and respect of the Jets, and they were always my second favorite team – perhaps because they were the other local team, but mostly, I think, because I had too muhc respect for him to actively pull against his team.
Another would be chess, which he also got me into. In fact, it would be fair to say that he taught me how to play. He loved to play, so much so that he even made his own board and pieces (I still have these). I still remember fondly the smell of those pieces (which have since gone away, unfortunately), because you could still distinctly smell the wood varnish that he used on them. Unfortunately, he was not particularly strong in chess, although he would study the game in newspapers and even one or two chess books. Although very young, I started to beat him before very long, until eventually, it became routine. Being the obnoxious little boy that I was (and still am, largely), I remember raising my arms in victory after the first win ever against him, and then running around the house like a brat out of hell, telling everyone that I had beaten him. But those wins became routine, and stories abound about how he used to lose quite often. Yet, he always was ready to play, which was a sign of a good sport. He used to sit there calmly, whistling air, mostly, and study the board carefully, to his credit. He was not perhaps the best in chess, but he was probably the best sport I have ever seen, and I credit him for having the patience to teach a small boy with limited patience of his own.  
He was also very well educated, and had a fairly extensive personal library at home. I admired his dignified manner and intellectual curiosity, and used to gaze up at the tall shelves, which were filled with books (and mind you, this was before the internet age!), and could easily imagine myself with just such a library someday. I wanted to gain knowledge and wisdom, and handle myself in the same respectful manner that he did. In a world that was constantly changing and growing, there seems all too often to be less and less room for good manners. Yet, he retained his. I never saw him lose his classiness, and his books, and books in general, came to more or less symbolize that for me after a while. I associated them with him, and felt almost like it was a throwback to a mysterious era of the past that I had never personally seen. That spoke to me, and while I did manage to get a decent sized library of books (and other things) of my own, the class with which he conducted himself on a day to day basis is something that I still strive for and hope to achieve. It seems that he made the world a better place for his being a part of it, and someday, I hope to be able to say that of myself, when I reach the winter of my life.
Finally, there is one other thing that he passed on to me, which is one of the things that I most enjoy, and yet sometimes feel alone in. He was an avid collector of stamps, and had quite the collection – and again, remember that this was pre-internet days. He did not buy his stamps on Ebay, like I admittedly often do. His collection was a mixture of purchases, as well as of things that people sent him, and things that he picked up in his travels. This collection of his fascinated me as a young boy, and it was not long before I attempted to have a stamp collection of my very own, modeled after his. Perusing through his collection almost felt to me a little like the closest thing to traveling the world while sitting in an armchair that I couild get. When leafing through his colelction, the stamps on display, from countries literally the world over, showed the character, the values, the historical figres and events, of each of these nations. They showed important landmarks, whether natural or made by human beings. They gave a glimpse of the mindset of these places, and it was always just so fascinating to leaf through these pages. At the time, it felt more civilized then anything that I could reach in my own little world of action figures and comic books and cartoons.
I could not hope yet to read some of those sophisticated and imtimidating books of his personal library, but the stamps were much more readily accessible, and so I kind of took to them, if you will. They were, in a sense, my window to the world, and although my collection has been rather on again off again, I always seem to return to them at some point. Not surprisingly, I often gravitate to those stamps that were so memorable in his collection, and make sure that I have them in my own collection, but it still never feels quite the same as his own collection. Technically, I have more stamps, most likely, and a more thorough, perhaps even more valuable, collection. Yet, it feels relatively hollow, because again, this is the age of the ineternet and all manner of modern day conveniences. You hardly really have to try in order to get whatever thing you were searching for, specifically, as far as stamps (and other material) things go. He managed to obtain a rich collection over the course of decades, and organized them beautifully, meticulously.
His stamp and book collection were indicative of a yearning to constantly learn more about this world, to understand. He was a man of science (and I certainly cannot claim to be that), yet his library also consisted of some very cool and modern literary works. One of my favorite authors is Kurt Vonnegut, and I was surprised, years after getting into him, to find some Vonnegut books amongst the many books on his shelf. That is a credit to him, and in such moments like this, when I glimpse the man that he was through my own man's eyes, rather than through the boy's eyes that I possessed at the time, that I gain an even deeper appreciation for him.  

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